by Jason Booker
Opening with a nearly wordless scene, The Stain benefits from some knowledge of what’s going on in advance. Mother Mary (Marta Legrady) and her husband Paul (Peter Higginson) have lost their grown son to a random act of violence committed by Jason (Sean Kaufmann). Ten years after his sentencing, Jason is released and looking for a place to live, which Mary offers after her marriage disintegrates. The script, which builds characters but rarely explores its circumstances, cuts back and forth between the post-sentencing, Jason’s time in jail and Paul and Mary’s coping process; sometimes that makes the play challenging to follow but more often it slows the action to a crawl, since the play uses frequent slow fade-outs after every scene. Instead of using a more suggestive setting for the multiple locations, writer/director, Andrew Domingues Frade, slows transitions by creating Mary’s entire apartment, while the lighting creates the same partially-lit effect during almost every scene. In addition to the unrelenting pacing issues where nothing feels tense or driven, the director made some truly odd choices too. Regardless if the characters are alone or not, whenever a character speaks for more than a few sentences at a time, he or she steps downstage-centre and speaks directly to the audience in a pool of light. Breaking the fourth wall and shattering the scene is not effective for The Stain, particularly as much of the dialogue concerns events of the past. However, the most bizarre choice of the evening comes during a re-enactment of their son’s death near the end of the show when the melodramatic Mary is cast as her son. Why – with two actors backstage – does the show’s lead become relegated to playing her own son? Her emotional response to hearing and seeing this should be the focus, but the director has chosen otherwise. Thankfully Kaufmann’s performance is compelling (once he gets something to say) and he is ably supported by the rest of the cast, even when the sentimental script and clumsy directorial choices get in the way.